Monday, April 21, 2014

When Wanting Fame Means Having an Abortion [Daniel]

 In the UK there has been a number of recent cases that reflect poorly on the abortion industry. One case in point is wannabe celebrity Josie Cunningham who became 'famous' after receiving free breast enlargements on the NHS which was a controversy in itself. However, it has recently come to light that she plans to have an abortion (at 18 weeks) because in her own words... “An abortion will further my career. This time next year I won’t have a baby. Instead, I’ll be famous, driving a bright pink Range Rover and buying a big house. Nothing will get in my way.”. She was recently given the opportunity to appear on celebrity Big Brother but when their interest waned on hearing she was pregnant she decided that her dreams of fame and fortune were more valuable than the life of her unborn child.

The Cult of Celebrity

 In another demonstration of the cult of celebrity Josie Cunningham argues that her quest for fame should not be risked by giving birth to her baby. Quite rightly this has caused uproar in the British media and presents a further challenge for pro-choice reasoning. After-all if the unborn are not morally valuable how much should the reason really matter? If the early human fetus isn't sentient, self-aware, conscious or a continuing subject of experience why should the reason matter, especially if most reasons for abortion are effectively utilitarian (to promote the best consequences i.e. to maximise happiness etc). If Josie thinks having an abortion will promote the best consequences for her and if her unborn child is only instrumentally valuable shouldn't she be free to do so? That's the reality of much of the Pro-choice reasoning.

The Success of Dehumanising Language in the UK

 The way in which Josie talks about her unborn child as if they are something disposable and fickle exposes how successful the dehumanising of the unborn has been in the UK. The maternal relationship is now seen as something tentative and conditional. The unborn must meet societies standards of normalcy before they are allowed to continue their existence, that is providing they come at the right time.

Contemporary Western Values

 Francis Schaeffer once said that the two values of middle-class America were affluence and personal peace and I think they're also applicable in the UK, and you can see these values reflected in Josies' reasoning. By affluence Schaeffer meant the acquisition of things and more things, that's why Josie wants her pink Range Rover and big house, if her unborn baby gets in her way to achieving those ends (utilitarian reasoning) its the unborn baby who loses. Personal peace simply means wanting your own lifestyle undisturbed regardless of the effects on others and in this case the unborn functions as a disturbance to her personal peace. 

 Unfortunately when those values are combined with the uncritical dehumanising of the unborn there will only be outrage at the reasons for abortion rather than the act itself. I know many people will want to be angry at Josie but she deserves our prayers because as hard as it is to comprehend she is also a victim of the culture of death in which she lives. We can only pray that she does not go through with her planned abortion next week and instead chooses to take seriously the gift of motherhood.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Are These Truly Myths? [Clinton Wilcox]

An article written on Everyday Feminism by Erin McKelle has been brought to my attention. Ordinarily I wouldn't take the time to respond to an article like this, but a friend asked for my thoughts on it. So I decided to write this in an article and share my thoughts with everyone who would care to read. The article is called 6 Abortion Myths Debunked. Needless to say her responses are less than impressive, and many result in simple red herrings and misunderstandings of science. I guess you could call this Six Abortion Myths Debunked Debunked.

Myth #1: Abortion is baby-killing.

I rarely frame abortion as baby killing because "baby" is an imprecise term. I can argue from the facts of science that the unborn are human beings from fertilization and that it is wrong and should be illegal to kill innocent human beings, whether or not they are babies.

So let's look at her arguments as to why the unborn don't qualify as babies.

1) A fetus is a developing mammal; a fetus develops at the second month of fertilization.

This is just misleading. It's true the developing human becomes a fetus after the second month of gestation, but she is an embryo before that. Zygote, embryo, and fetus are just stages of development of the same developing entity. So telling us that a fetus develops after the second month of gestation doesn't tell us anything about whether it's right or wrong to kill it. Once the fetus is born, she becomes a newborn, then a toddler, adolescent, etc. All stages of development of the same entity.

2) A baby is a human offspring that has already been born.

Sure it is, but it's not only that. The author of the article pointed us to the dictionary definition of fetus because it suited her purposes, but why didn't she point us to the dictionary definition of baby? Probably because the dictionary definition of baby proves her wrong. How is baby defined? As a human fetus.

There is only one drastic point in a human being's life at which we can point to her going from non-humanity to humanity -- at fertilization. Before you have the sperm and the egg, but when they fuse a new human being comes into existence. Every embryology textbook will tell you this. Once that event occurs, the human being begins a path of development that starts at fertilization and doesn't end at birth. In fact, development continues well into adulthood.

3) A zygote...is not the same thing as a human life that has already come into being.

Yes it is, for the reasons I outlined above. A human zygote is a human being. If she doesn't believe me, why doesn't she pick up an embryology textbook and read it from the experts?

4) Therefore, a fetus is a part of its mother.

This really goes without saying, but if this was supposed to be an argument, it's clearly a non sequitur. Even if the zygote isn't a human life, she hasn't shown why we should consider it a part of the mother. In fact, for a week or so before the zygote implants in the mother's uterus, she is a free-floating individual. She is not connected to the mother at all, but is conceived in the fallopian tube and pushed toward the uterus by tiny hairs called cilia.

But never mind this -- what does the child have to do to be considered not part of the mother? The fetus is just connected by the umbilical cord. In fact, the mother can die and her body kept alive until the child can survive alone, then the child can be born. No other part of her can do this. We can't keep her body alive, then remove her kidney and let it live out the rest of its life. If the kidney doesn't get implanted into another woman's body, it will "die," too.

Additionally, according to the law of transitivity, if A is a part of B, and B is a part of C, then A is a part of C. For example, if your finger is a part of your hand, and your hand is a part of your body, then your finger is a part of your body. So if the fetus is really just a "part of the mother," then you would have to say that every pregnant woman has four arms, four legs, two heads, four eyes, two noses, and roughly half the time, male genitalia.

In fact, she tries to argue that the baby is an autonomous being. I would disagree. When is the last time you've seen a baby feed himself, or change his own diaper, or drive himself to the store to pick up more formula? The only difference between a human fetus and a human newborn is that one is inside the mother, connected to the umbilical cord, and one is not. But this is not a morally relevant difference, nor does it make the baby autonomous just because he is no longer connected to the mother.

In no relevant sense of the term can the unborn be considered part of the mother.

The author of the article also alleges that fetal pain is a result of phony science. It's not based on phony science. Pro-choice people would love to think that all pro-life arguments are phony, but considering that the nervous system and the brain develop in the womb, there must be a point during pregnancy at which the unborn actually feels pain. The pain receptors aren't magically turned on by the act of birth. However, this is a red herring and has no bearing on whether or not the unborn are human (since some human beings, like Gabby Gingras, are born with a congenital inability to feel pain), so I don't feel obligated to support the science of fetal pain at this moment.

Needless to say, this first myth is not a myth at all, and McKelle has done a poor job of supporting her arguments.

Myth #2: Abortion is used as a form of birth control.

This one seems pretty straightforward. Abortion is used as a last resort. If contraception fails, a woman goes in to have an abortion to prevent the child from being born. Abortion is birth control. And it differs from contraceptives because contraceptives are meant to prevent conception.

McKelle's second paragraph actually refutes her own claim of this being a myth. She admits that most people don't use abortion as birth control. But if some people do, then this clearly isn't a myth. However, I still think that's a specious claim because all abortions are used for birth control. Her specific reason may not be "I'm getting an abortion because it's birth control," but since every woman goes in to have an abortion because she doesn't want the child being born (she feels like she's not ready to be a mother, she doesn't think she can afford it, wants to finish college, fears getting fired, etc.), it's clearly being used as birth control.

She argues that this doesn't make logical sense, but I think I have shown that it does. She says that this assumes that abortion is easier to access than contraceptives, but that has no bearing whatsoever on her argument. Expensive or difficult to access birth control is still birth control.

Myth #3: People who have abortions regret it or experience intense grief.

This one is again straightforward. Pro-choice people have a tendency to take pro-life claims and blow them way out of proportion. Pro-life people don't say that all post-abortive women regret their abortions or experience intense grief. But this obviously does happen, as there are organizations that are formed specifically to help women who are feeling grief about their abortions, such as The Silent No More Awareness Campaign and the IRMA Network (IRMA stands for I Regret My Abortion). You can find testimonies from post-abortive women at those websites. Denying these women exist shows that many pro-choice people are more interested in their ideology than in actually helping women. There are many negative aspects to abortion and by denying them, the pro-choice crowd are doing a disservice to the women they claim to want to help.

McKelle claims that Post-Abortion Syndrome doesn't exist, but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder does. And if a woman's abortion was traumatic, she could certainly become intensely depressed, even to the point of taking her own life.

So McKelle's claim that most women (75%) who get abortions felt the benefit outweighed the harm is irrelevant in trying to wave this away as a myth. I don't know if this is accurate, as I'm not going to investigate the studies she's drawing from (studies, especially in contentious cases like abortion, can be greatly skewed by those with an agenda). But the argument is not that all do, or even that most do (though there may be some uninformed pro-life people who make that claim). But the reality is that many women do regret their abortion.

Whether or not women regret their abortion says nothing about its moral permissibility, so pro-choice people are doing a grave disservice by pretending it doesn't happen.

Myth #4: Only selfish women have abortions.

I personally don't like to make claims about a woman's state of mind when she goes in for an abortion. Again, a woman's state of mind says nothing about its moral permissibility or impermissibility. But considering that a mother is supposed to place her children's well-being above her own, I can see why people would think abortion is (if not always, then usually) a selfish decision.

Let's look at a recent case regarding Megan Huntsman, a woman who got pregnant seven times and killed six of the seven children after they were born (one was stillborn). Now, she could have gone in for an abortion while she was pregnant and had those children legally killed by abortion (and in many places in the United States, you can have the child legally killed up to the point of birth). I'm assuming that McKelle is morally opposed to infanticide, based on a statement she made early in her article. So why is abortion not a selfish decision, but these six cases of infanticide are? Should a mother not be held responsible to care for her children while pregnant with them? Why do her obligations only begin at birth?

McKelle makes the statement that those who choose to remain childless are choosing themselves. But if you choose your own welfare over the welfare of others, that is, by its very definition, selfishness. There is nothing wrong with choosing to remain childless -- the wrong obtains when you kill your own children in order to do it.

McKelle also quoted a girl who was young and scared during a pregnancy, and decided the best decision for her baby was to have the baby killed rather than grow up in poverty. But to see why this line of thinking is morally bankrupt, all one has to do is ask, if she had given birth and decided to kill her child when the child was two years old, would we have allowed her to get away with saying "this was the best decision a mother could make for her child"? Would we even agree with this line of thinking if it was a toddler, and not a human fetus, whose life was hanging in the balance?

Myth #5: If abortion becomes illegal, abortion will end.

Absolutely nobody thinks this. Abortion numbers will go down, because I believe people are generally law-abiding citizens. But obviously people still rape, steal, and murder despite it being illegal. Does that mean we should legalize it to make rape, theft, or murder "safe and rare?" Of course not. Whether or not making abortion illegal would reduce the instances of it, murder of a human being is the kind of act we make illegal because there must be consequences for those who choose to do it.

She assumes, as many pro-choice people do, that making abortion illegal only changes the safety of it. This is completely bogus. What made abortion safer for the woman was not legalizing it, it was advances in medical technology. In 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Vital Statistics Center for Disease Control, as cited in Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Wilke, Abortion Questions and Answers, rev. ed., the number of women who died in illegal abortions was 39. Medical advancements, not legalization, have made abortion safer for the woman (though it's almost always fatal for the child).

Myth #6: Only women get abortions.

This objection is just silly. I'm not convinced that transsexualism is a real thing (I'm open to being wrong and have been recommended books on the issue that I will be studying), and "cissexualism" is certainly not. But the reality is that only people with female hardware get abortions. If McKelle wants to complain about this, she should talk to pro-choice people. They use arguments that make this assumption much more than pro-life people do, such as with their argument that "if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament."

This is just another red herring, apparently because the gay rights issue is so important to her that she's willing to homosexual-juke the abortion conversation. But the reality is that the issue of gay marriage and homosexuality is a separate issue from the abortion issue, because pro-life people believe that all human beings, homosexuals included, have natural rights such as the right to life. The pro-choice side is the exclusive side because they believe that unless you fit some prerequisites, you aren't "one of us."

McKelle claims to be interested in human rights, but I don't think she has a clear grasp of them. Human rights means that all human beings, unborn included, have natural rights like the right to life. And having a right to choose does not mean that all choices are equal, or that all choices are "right" to make. The unborn are human from fertilization, so the unborn have human rights from fertilization.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fallacy Monday: Begging the Question [Clinton Wilcox]

Here are links to the first three articles in this series: Introduction, Ad Hominem, Strawman.

This is probably one of the most common fallacies you'll come across. To beg the question is essentially assuming what you're trying to prove. But if you're trying to prove something, then assuming it implicitly in a premise of your argument won't be convincing, even though the argument is a valid one.

Philosopher Matthew Flanagan describes this fallacy as follows: "'Begging the question' refers to the informal fallacy known as petitio principii, which literally means 'requesting first principles.' The 'question' in 'begging the question' refers to the matter at the heart of the debate, the issue being debated. To 'beg the question' is to attempt to have that question conceded by assuming it either implicitly or explicitly in the premises of the argument the arguer offers for its truth. In other words, the arguer assumes what he [is] trying to prove and uses that assumption to prove that assumption correct."

Begging the question differs from other fallacies in that a question-begging argument is valid, whereas most other fallacious arguments are invalid. An example of a question-begging argument would be:

P1: God wrote the Bible.
P2: The Bible says that God can't lie.
P3: Therefore, God exists.

It's true that if God wrote the Bible and that God can't lie, then everything in the Bible is true, including the fact that God exists. But the problem is that you must first accept the premise that God exists before this argument will be convincing to you. Of course, there are independent reasons to believe that the Bible is divinely inspired, but this argument won't get you there.

Circular reasoning is a specific type of question-begging argument. Not all question-begging arguments are guilty of circular reasoning, but many are. An example of a case of circular reasoning would be something like the following: Women are better at writing poetry because men don't write poetry as good as women do.

Now, not everyone will make it easy on you to identify fallacies. Usually, unless someone specifically studies logic, the person you are talking to won't put their argument in the form of a syllogism. If you learn to do that, though, recognizing errors in reasoning will become much easier.

It also bears mentioning that people often confuse begging the question with raising the question, but the two are not interchangeable. For example, someone might say, "the weatherman this morning said there is a sixty percent chance of rain, which begs the question: Should I take an umbrella, just in case?" What this person really means is that it raises the question. It doesn't beg the question, which is a logical fallacy.

Examples of this fallacy in the abortion issue:

Many arguments that pro-choice people make beg the question. What is at the heart of the abortion issue is whether or not the unborn are full human persons (that is, human beings that have a serious right to life). So arguments from situations beg the question because you have to assume that the unborn are not valuable human beings with a serious right to life in order for the argument to succeed. So the argument that women need abortion because they might not be able to afford a child begs the question because we wouldn't allow a mother to kill her two-year-old child to make it easier to afford raising her other children (or because we think that growing up poor will mean the child won't have a good life). So if the unborn are full human persons, we can't justify abortion for that reason, either.

Pro-life people can beg the question, too, especially religious ones. The argument that abortion is wrong because God has commanded us not to murder is a question-begging argument. You have to assume that God exists for this argument to have force. But of course, most pro-choice people we talk to will not be religious, so this argument won't be convincing to them.

This is a fallacy that many of us make often without even realizing it. But as we learn to think more clearly and to give reasons for our views, we will stop making so many assumptions and be able to give compelling reasons for why we hold to the position that we do.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why Pro-Life People Need to Become Amateur Philosophers [Clinton Wilcox]

This article has appeared, in a slightly altered form, on my personal blog.

I want to be clear about something, first. I don't consider myself a philosopher in the academic sense. I guess you could consider me a philosophy buff, or an armchair philosopher, or philosopher nerd. Oh! Philosophy Connoisseur. At any rate, I study philosophy and logic, and am self-taught in this discipline. I consider myself a philosopher by Alvin Plantinga's definition of the term, someone who thinks deeply about important issues. And it is my contention that any pro-life person who wants to be effective in the field should become an amateur philosopher.

It seems to be taken as axiomatic from pro-life people that we can find no common ground with pro-choice people, and that pro-life people who take exception for rape are not pro-life, they are really "pro-abortion with exceptions" (that's an awful lot of exceptions for someone who is "pro-abortion"). Finding common ground does not mean compromising with pro-choice people. Steve Wagner has written an excellent book about this very topic. We can use common ground as a springboard to keep the conversation going. For example, if someone tells me that they oppose late-term abortion, then I can obviously agree with that. Then I can ask someone in what morally relevant way does an early embryo differ from a late-term fetus that would justify killing one but not the other? And calling a pro-life person who believes in the rape exception "pro-abortion" is just a strawman of their actual views. Just what, exactly, is common ground if we can't find common ground with people who agree with us about approximately 98% of all abortions?

The pro-life movement can't hope to win if we're divided. Jesus himself said as much in Matthew 12:25 when he was accused of casting out demons by Satan's power: "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand." How can we hope to win if we can't even agree that pro-life people who disagree with us are still welcome in the movement? Even Christians can't all agree on the same doctrines, yet that doesn't put their status as a Christian into question unless it's one of the core doctrines that they reject. The core doctrine of the pro-life movement is that all human life is equally valuable, from fertilization until natural death. Internal disagreements are just that -- disagreements, and they can't detract from our mission of seeing Roe v. Wade overturned.

So what do I mean when I say that pro-life advocates need to become amateur philosophers? Well, there are a few aspects of philosophy that I'd like to point out. I think it would be beneficial for the pro-life movement to adopt these attitudes, especially in their interactions with pro-choice people.

Attitude #1: Philosophers think clearly about issues.

Can you defend the pro-life position? Do you know how to justify the fact that the unborn from fertilization are biological members of our species, and the philosophical position that they are equally deserving of respect as we are? It's not enough to just assert this claim; we have to be able to support it. If you take the time to read some of the best defenders of the pro-life position, like Frank Beckwith, Scott Klusendorf, and Christopher Kaczor, then you'll be able to give a robust defense of the pro-life position that most pro-choice people won't be able to adequately respond to. But pro-life people need more than just bumper sticker slogans to support our position. The science and philosophy is on our side -- don't be afraid to use it!

Attitude #2: Philosophers ask questions.

It's not a bad thing to go into a discussion admitting that you might be wrong about something. Dogmatic is one of the worst things someone can be. It stifles intellectual growth. We need to be open to investigating claims, and being open to being mistaken. So we ask questions to make sure our position is really the best one, and can withstand attacks and rebuttals from the other side.

Not just asking questions of our own position, but asking questions of the person that we're talking to. Greg Koukl wrote a great book about this. Even if they disagree with us, they might have an insight that we haven't previously considered. Keeping a humble attitude and asking questions will keep you from embarrassing yourself if someone asks you something you don't have an answer to. Saying "I don't know" is much better than making something up. Plus, by asking them questions you might be helping them to think through their own views for the first time, and you might be able to help them realize for themselves why their position doesn't hold up, rather than just telling them. It will be more effective that way.

Attitude #3: Philosophers attack ideas, not people.

One thing we really need to start doing is divorcing a person's ideas from the person, themselves. Someone is not automatically a horrible person just because they are pro-choice. A post-abortive woman is not a murderer. There are many different reasons women abort: many were coerced into it by an abusive boyfriend or parents who threatened to disown them, many were lied to by the abortion counselor or practitioner so they had no idea what was inside them was an actual human child, etc. You have no idea why a woman aborted (if she tells you that she did), so stop assuming. A major rule of philosophy is that you give your opponents the benefit of the doubt and treat them with respect. The abortionist, on the other hand, is always morally culpable for an abortion because he/she knows exactly what it is they do during an abortion.

Being hateful toward people will not change their minds. You may think you're being effective by being abrasive because you've won the argument, but it is possible to win the argument and lose the person. "Truth" is not synonymous with "love." You need to speak the truth in love. It is often loving to tell someone the truth, but you tell them in a loving, sensitive way.

My desire is to help pro-life people realize that we need to accept each others' differences if we're going to win the proverbial war for the lives of the unborn. Working side-by-side with people who disagree with us does not mean we have to accept all of their views. It just means that we're working toward the same goal of seeing legal abortion done away with.

So this all-or-nothing approach is not helpful. I am very much pro-life, and I believe that all human beings have equal instrinc worth as human beings. I believe that we should only have an exception open for if the woman's life is genuinely endangered and the child is not yet viable. Sure, there are those who may hold to a rape exception, but the people I've talked to hold to the rape exception due to a logical reason; it's not emotional rhetoric. I strongly disagree with them, and I do have conversations with them about it. But we can at least agree that abortions in the vast majority of cases should be abolished and we are working toward that common goal.

So we have to understand that not everyone shares our convictions. That doesn't mean everyone is right; that would violate a basic philosophical principle, the Law of Non-Contradiction. But it does mean that we can side with people who share the bulk of our convictions, and hash out disagreements amongst ourselves. Let us not be a house divided, but let us unite in our common goal to protect the lives of the innocent unborn.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fallacy Monday: The Strawman Fallacy [Clinton Wilcox]

Here is the introduction to this series, and here is my discussion of the first fallacy in this series. In today's article, I'm going to be looking at the strawman fallacy.

Simply stated, the strawman fallacy is committed when you attack a similar argument to the one a person presents, but is a distorted version. So you are responding to a different argument which means that your response does not engage with and rebut his argument.

According to Daniel T. Edward in Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments (Wadsworth, pp. 157-159), the origins of the term are unclear. The usage of the term in rhetoric suggests a human figure made of straw which is easily knocked down or destroyed, such as a military training dummy, scarecrow, or effigy (as cited and quoted by Wikipedia).

The reason that this is a fallacy should be obvious: By attacking a similar but distorted argument, you are not really addressing the argument made. So the argument stands, but it may appear you have defeated it because of the similarities.

Here are a couple of examples of this fallacy in action:

A common pro-choice strawman argument is: If abortion is homicide, then masturbation is mass murder. I have given this argument a much fuller treatment elsewhere, but essentially, as Scott Klusendorf mentions in his book The Case for Life, this makes the elementary mistake of confusing parts with wholes. Sperm cells are part of the parent organism's body, whereas the unborn is a whole, separate, individual organism of the human species that develop themselves from within into a more mature version of themselves, along the path of human development. All of us began life as a zygote, then developed into an embryo, fetus, newborn, infant, etc.

A common pro-life strawman I hear is when a pro-life person misunderstands bodily rights arguments. When a pro-choice person tries to argue they have a right to refuse life-giving treatment to the unborn, pro-life people often mistake this as the much weaker argument that a woman can do whatever she wants to or with anything in her body. It's important to keep these two arguments separate in your mind. Here is an article I've written on this very topic for clarification.

This is one fallacy that is easy to make but is also easy to avoid. If we just take the time to really understand what the other person is saying, then we can easily avoid frustrating them by responding to something they're really saying and not misrepresenting them or their views.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Logical Outgrowth of Failure to Respect Human Life [Clinton Wilcox]

It turns out that several hospitals in the UK, including Addenbrooke's in Cambridge, incinerated the remains of thousands of miscarried and aborted unborn children as clinical waste, while two of the hospitals used the fetal remains to heat their hospitals. The parents of miscarried babies were told that their child was "cremated," rather than having done what the parents wanted done with the remains.

While many of us find this abhorrent, it really shouldn't surprise us that hospitals would do this, as this is just a logical outgrowth of the pro-choice position, that preborn human beings don't have any rights. If you don't have any rights, your remains don't have to be respected. The only thing that makes this wrong, in the eyes of the pro-choice crowd, is the fact that they went against the parents' wishes. But to those of us who believe that all human beings have basic rights, this practice is despicable.

The NHS has put a ban on the procedure, but why bother if the life of the unborn child is of not enough value to protect them in law? If the unborn don't have rights to protect, then there is no reason to respect their remains. Nevertheless, I do hope that people will recognize that this visceral reaction they are feeling to using aborted and miscarried children to heat hospitals is an indication that maybe the procedure of abortion isn't as morally justifiable as they believe.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fallacy Monday: The Ad Hominem Fallacy [Clinton Wilcox]

Last week I began a new series on logical fallacies. The first fallacy I would like to examine is a very common one in the abortion debate, the Ad Hominem fallacy.

Ad hominem is a Latin term that means "to the man." An argument that makes an ad hominem fallacy is an argument that dismisses someone's conclusion based on something about their character. You are attacking them rather than their argument. I often see the term "ad hominem" thrown around in an attempt to stop a debate, but we need to understand that a personal attack does not automatically mean someone's argument is fallacious. It may be unkind to call someone names, but it is not logically fallacious.

For example, if I were to say, "You're an idiot. Now let me show you how you're wrong..." you are not making a fallacious argument. You are definitely being unkind, but if you are going to show them how their argument fails (by responding to one of their premises, for example), then you have not committed a logical fallacy.

Now if I was to say, "You're a jerk, so I don't have to listen to anything you say," that is clearly fallacious. You are dismissing their argument based on the fact that they're just not a nice person. But even jerks can be right.

Additionally, like most fallacies, the Ad Hominem attack is not always fallacious; sometimes it is called for. Philosopher Ed Feser gives an example of a time at which attacking someone's character is appropriate: "For example, suppose what is at issue is whether a certain person is a reliable witness or an unbiased source of information, as in a court case. Then there is no fallacy whatsoever in showing that his track record reveals him to be a compulsive liar, or to have a bad memory or bad eyesight, or to have been drunk at the time of the events he claims to have witnessed, or to have a personal stake in the outcome of the case. These are ad hominem criticisms -- criticisms directed 'against the man' himself -- but there is no fallacy involved, because the credibility of the man himself is precisely what is at issue" (emphases his).

Here are a couple of examples of the ad hominem fallacy in use:

From the pro-life side, I commonly see the argument that pro-choice people hate babies. Clearly, some of them do. I have met some pro-choice people on-line who are quite open about it. But I take it that these people are in the minority. Most pro-choice people don't hate babies. But even if they do, how does that negate their argument that abortion is permissible because of bodily rights, or because the unborn is not a person? It doesn't, so whether or not a pro-choice person actually hates babies, their argument still needs to be engaged with.

From the pro-choice side, one of the most common arguments I see are that if you are a man, your argument is invalid because you can't get pregnant. Again, this is clearly fallacious thinking because my being a man does not refute my argument that the unborn are full human persons from fertilization and it should be illegal to kill innocent human children.

So as we strive to have better conversations, let's stop trying to dismiss peoples' arguments by throwing around claims of logical fallacies and really try to engage with the arguments. Only by doing so can we really hope to understand the reasons that someone takes a position on this issue.

News on the Matter

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